May 22, 2016
Remember today’s date. Remember the name Tim Canova. Mr. Canova is running in the Democratic primary in Florida for the 23rd Congressional District. He isn’t likely to win. Why worry about someone who will lose a primary? Well, he’s running against DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And he’s raised $1 million or so from micro donations, mostly Berners.
This is not David Brat defeating Eric Cantor in Virginia two years ago. Cantor didn’t see the threat coming. The type of Tea Party-friendly GOP voters that turned out in the primary were entirely different from the voters who were returning Cantor to D.C. every two years as he rose up the leadership ranks.
In this case, Wasserman Schultz is the relatively popular Jewish congresswoman running in a heavily Jewish district that preferred Hillary over Bernie 69/30 in the March 15 presidential primary. She does provide solid constituent service and does not take regularly take positions out of line with her electorate.
So why do we care? Partly because Canova now has the official endorsement of Sanders, not just a stream of money from his supporters. It’s another indication Bernie is not putting his pitchfork down anytime soon. He’s not following the normal approach of a runner-up candidate. It wasn’t unforseeable. Neither Hillary, nor Wasserman Schultz have given him any reason to stand down.
Bernie has accomplished a few things over the past week. After several weeks of seeming indecision over whether he would effectively stand down after California and negotiate a peace well before the convention, or push things to the convention floor, he’s moved in the direction of taking it the distance.
He’s shown that pressure from Democratic insiders and pundits will if anything stiffen his resolve. He’s reaffirmed the idea that he’s about his political revolution first and the Democratic Party second. This isn’t exactly news, but if anyone was thinking the party could co-opt him in exchange for a few assurances about open primaries and a prime speaking slot at the convention, guess again.
Most importantly, this latest shift gives Berners a reason to dig in and continue to fight for him and his beliefs. Once New York gave Hillary a 15 point win, even the most committed Berners could see the math didn’t work. They realized he wasn’t actually going to flip a majority of super delegates. They didn’t think he should quit and didn’t want to quit themselves, but realized he’d effectively hit the wall.
His donation haul (or lack thereof) for the final 10 days of April reflected the malaise. Almost any other candidate would happily trade places, but the Berners were beginning to simmer. Now they have a legitimate cause. Most states hold their presidential primaries much earlier than for other offices. The majority of congressional contests are still a couple/few months out.
Most incumbents are not being challenged. Many of the challengers aren’t overly viable. It’s rare for a representative to lose a primary challenge. It happens a couple times a cycle. Berners have shown a huge willingness to donate. Twenty-seven Bucks here, 27 dollars there begins to add up very quickly in a local race. For all the talk about money in politics, the sums aren’t actually that large.
Bernie has proven a couple million motivated individuals of relatively modest means can keep up with the millionaires and billionaires, many of whom keep their wallets closed to candidates. Pushing the fight to down ballot races will keep Berners engaged and set the stage for 2018 if Sanders so chooses. He’s under absolutely no obligation to get with the program.
When Hillary was spending time in January and February mocking the possibility Bernie could get any of his agenda implemented, his response was that senators and representatives who weren’t on board with what the people wanted would have to deal with the voters in the midterm elections.
You couldn’t invent a better villain than Wasserman Schultz, who was a prominent member of the 2008 Clinton campaign and has spent the past year proclaiming her neutrality while acting like someone who was part of the 2008 Clinton campaign. From limiting debates to working out cooperative fundraising programs between Hillary and the DNC that route almost all of the funds back to Clinton, she’s put more than just her thumb on the scale.
This didn’t get Hillary the nomination. Institutional support from the entire Democratic Party, state, local, national, yada, yada, yada helped. Just enough closed primaries finished the job. Bernie is right that the open/closed primaries debate makes a huge difference. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump noticed the difference too.
They could have held 40 debates and Hillary would have won. She’s a good debater. Most of their contests were ties or favored Clinton. Only in Michigan can you draw any reasonable connection between a well-timed debate and a favorable result for Sanders. He’s spent significantly more money on advertising over the past couple months than the Clinton campaign plus their PACs.
Short of FBI action against Hillary, the only thing that would have won Bernie the nomination was open primaries across the board (or close to it.) While caucuses helped him, if you turned those into open primaries, he would have won the vast majority. Wasserman Schultz and Clinton could have played it straight and won anyway. But they didn’t.
Hillary was supposed to do whatever she could to win. It’s not the candidate’s job to play fair. The DNC Chair is another matter. She’s made Bernie’s task of getting his supporters fired up about congressional primaries infinitely easier. If you think this is just a question of a $12 or $15 minimum wage, or if everybody or just some people qualify for free tuition, you’ll wonder what the big deal is.
But Berners are motivated by changing the campaign financing system above all else. When Sanders was criticized for being a one issue pony, the critics were at least partially right. This one concept comes before all else. If politicians are dependent on large contributions from large financial institutions and global corporations, they aren’t apt to push through a Sanders-friendly agenda.
The next few months will tell us plenty about how much clout this movement will have in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential primaries, either in attempting to find a Democratic nominee if Hillary loses to Trump, or perhaps giving her the primary fight of her life (which is saying plenty after ’08 and ’16.)
Do Berners stay somewhat within the confines of the Democratic Party, trying to find candidates for open seats and against targeted incumbents for 2018, or do we see a new Progressive Party? Does the Bern get partially or mostly extinguished when it’s not a presidential year?
If Canova and/or a few of his brethren can pull upsets, it will indicate Berners have reason to think they can create some of the change they desire inside the party. If they fall short because Berners are less motivated than they appear now, this is going to lie dormant until the next presidential cycle. But if they go all out and fall just short in several districts (the presidential primary over and over again on a smaller scale), there’s heavy incentive for another party.
Remember, the core support for Sanders is from progressives and people new to the process, not Democrats. If a voter/activist is party-first, they supported Hillary in most cases. On issues of campaign finance, there is no difference between the Hillarycrats and the GOP.
If Trump had fallen short, Republicans would have a similar concern on the other side. But they recognized it. One of the many reasons the establishment proved so unable to mount a unified opposition to The Donald was fear over having the Trumpists walk out of the convention never to return to the GOP.
At least from the outside, it appears Hillary and Wasserman Schultz, among others, are under the illusion Berners have no choice but to return home. Make no mistake. It’s an illusion, a phantasm, a mirage. Some Millennials feel loyalty to Barack Obama. Some hate the GOP. Few are very connected to the Democratic Party. Many are too young to have voted for Obama. Serious progressives don’t think there was enough progress under Obama.
This is very real. The more entitled or pissed Hillary and Wasserman Schultz sound, the faster they shovel their own political graves.